"Maybe that is the step forward on this record, to be able to have the freedom to have humour sitting alongside songs that are deadly earnest, and the two actually balance out each other."
-- Edge, on All That You Can't Leave Behind
Column: off the record..., vol. 14-619
May 18, 2014
While everyone else is looking into a crystal ball to see what the future holds for U2, I find myself looking back. I only recently realized that I’ve been on staff here at @U2 for 10 years! I remember what it was like to be one of the new kids, feeling less than confident about my writing abilities and overwhelmed by just how much the existing staff members knew about U2. Before I joined, I might have been considered a “super fan” among the people who knew me, but as I got to know the other @U2 staffers, I understood that among them, I could barely scratch the surface of what there is to know about this band and their music. I have been a dedicated student ever since, and I continue to learn and grow from the generosity of the people who have since become like family to me.
One of my very first assignments was to cover Bono’s weekend visit to Philadelphia to kick off the ONE Campaign and appear as the keynote speaker at the University of Pennsylvania’s graduation ceremony, 10 years ago to the day. I was at once terrified and ecstatic to be there, in the closest proximity I’d ever been to any rock star, let alone my favorite rock star. Those two days still rank in the Top 5 on the Best Experiences of My Life list, and might have been No. 1 if not for the birth of my children.
The people at ONE are marking the anniversary with a post celebrating just some of the remarkable achievements of this organization over the past 10 years. The statistics not mentioned in the post are just as mind-boggling: upwards of 51 million more children enrolled in school; $95 billion in debt relief; and $250 million raised through the Product (RED) campaign for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. How were they able to do all this in a decade’s time? Jamie Drummond, co-founder and executive director of ONE, explains their “secret sauce” in this article published by Stanford University. Kudos to the ONE campaign and the 3.5 million members who make it all possible.
My favorite moment of the entire weekend in Philadelphia came at the very end of the Penn ceremony, when a young woman from another fan website I had been hanging out with all morning called out to Bono just as everyone was clearing the stage. I quietly freaked out when he turned and started heading in our direction, but kept my shaking hands busy by snapping photos as he approached. The fan handed Bono a photo she had taken of him and Coretta Scott King from this event earlier that year. I can still hear the low murmur of his voice as he leaned down to thank her, and to give us a little love. “The new record, we’re nearly there.” Sound familiar?
He was talking about How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, released in November of that year. Perusing the archives for 2004, it strikes me how some of the stories we posted then are still on the radar, 10 years later. We ran an interview with Bill Carter, author of Fools Rush In, who was a featured speaker at last year’s U2 Conference in Cleveland. This was the first we heard that a musical was in the works. The ill-fated Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark closed earlier this year after a fairly successful run on Broadway. In 2004, Bono was one of three inaugural winners of the TED prize for his humanitarian work, and in 2013 gave an amazing TED talk as a seasoned “factivist.” And of course, all the on-again, off-again talk of the new album’s release and the start of the subsequent tour. Some things never change!
In March, I took an afternoon off work to attend the U.S. debut of the film A Thousand Times Goodnight at the Cleveland International Film Festival. U2’s Larry Mullen Jr. is featured in a supporting role as Tom, half of a married couple who are friends with Rebecca (Juliette Binoche), a photojournalist whose work takes her to areas of conflict, and her husband Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a marine biologist who is raising their two daughters in their home on the coast of Ireland while his wife is away.
The movie begins with Rebecca in an undisclosed location as she’s witnessing a deliberate ritual involving a young woman and the female elders who are calmly dressing her. The tension builds as it’s revealed that the girl is a suicide bomber, and this ritual dressing will be her last. When the inevitable happens, Rebecca is hurt and taken back to Ireland to recover from her injuries.
The rest of the film follows the same pattern of uneasy stillness as we watch Rebecca and Marcus navigate the internal conflicts of their marriage. Marcus is put off by Rebecca’s disregard for her own safety and feels she should settle down for their daughters’ sake. Rebecca is torn between the love of her family and the work that is integral to her personality. There are long, sweeping shots of the beautiful Irish coast, but the tension between the couple never lets you relax enough to enjoy it.
Larry’s character Tom only gets a few minutes of screen time, but his performance is unfussy as a concerned friend. In one scene, he drops off a book of drawings left at his house by Rebecca’s oldest, Steph (Lauryn Canny), and as they chat, a quiet strength shines through.
The film is a riveting portrait of a family in flux. The reversal of gender roles was refreshing, although I couldn’t help but feel that if it were Marcus’ job to photograph the inhumanity of war, he’d be sent off with a hero’s parade and not be questioned for his choice. As it is, the film offers a glimpse into the complexities of being a strong woman in a world that doesn’t necessarily appreciate it.
The film is not yet available for wide release, but you can see some previews here.
Spring is graduation season, and Bono isn’t the only one who can give an inspirational speech. One of my favorites comes from author Neil Gaiman, whose advice is three simple words.
(c) @U2/Maione, 2014